Thanks Captain

September 23, 2000

Talk to pilots and you will find out that there are two expressions which bring the fantasy of flight back to the reality of life.

For us small craft type pilots, the most common expression has been, "If you've got time to spare, go by air."

You may have your plans, but mother nature often has different ones.

However, with the congested hub city system, an overburdened air traffic control system, and complicated machines that are getting older by the minute, this saying has acquired new meaning for the majority of people using commercial aviation today.

We awoke at 4:30 am the other morning to drop dad at the airport so he could be on the 6:30 am flight to Phoenix and make that 9:15 flight back to Detroit. However, a bit of horse trading went on at the airport. The 9:15 passengers gave up their working airplane to the 7:00am passengers, and we taxied out in their broken airplane only to have the electronic cooling fans quit again. Gotta cool those electronics.

Three hours later, we ran into weather that could have been avoided, had we left Phoenix even an hour late.

Which brings us to the second phrase of aviation, describing the nature of flight as "hours and hours of sheer boredom, interrupted by moments of stark terror."

The cold front slid into Detroit with so much violence and rain that the airport was closed. Diverted north and around the storms, we were assigned to fly around a racetrack in the sky, over and over again. Granted, the turns were very mild, since the oval was huge. However, the turbulence was unending, and for first time in normal flight, I was getting sick. (Normal flight is not to be confused with flying a bi-wing WWI fighter upside down and through every aerobatic stunt known to man.)

The vast majority of us did not need the bags, however, some did, especially the children.

Finally we were cleared to land and I gave out an inward cheer when I heard the landing gear extending.

From my window seat I thought about how the pilots would have an easy approach to landing, since the overcast had lifted, and we had a very clear view of the airport.

We lined up with the runway, crossed the threshold, the pilot began his flare. About 5 seconds from touchdown the airplane was slammed on right side with a gust of wind which was probably in excess of 50 miles per hour. WHAM the right wing was violently lifted skyward and the left wing... well there was not a whole lot of flying room for the left wing. I don't even want to think of how close to the ground it came.

I remember thinking, OH SHIT, he's gonna lose it.

As can be the case with gusts of wind, this was a very narrow gust, and we flew right out of it. Now the problem was that the pilot's quick reaction of turning the airplane to the right lost the counter force of the gust and and WHAM we were slammed to the right.

I don't even remember having a thought, I suppose because I really thought we were going to crash.

Must have been angels on the right, and angels on the left, because that airplane straightened out, and we were smoothly on the ground within seconds.

The passengers broke out in cheers and applause.

As we walked off, I extended my hand to the captain - Thanks, I said, Nice landing.

He earned a years worth of salary in less than 15 seconds, and I knew, probably more than most, just how close we came to making the 11:00 news.

Thanks again Captain.... Nice job.